I begin with Leonard “Lenny” Ross. Our paths crossed in June 1958.
Ross won $100,000 in 1955 at the age of 10. He won another $64,000 in 1956. This was the era of the TV quiz shows. His specialty: the stock market. Note: $164,000 in 1956 would be $1.45 million today.
In December 1957, he was interviewed by Mike Wallace. Wallace was already the most feared interviewer on national television. This was a decade before he became the hit man for 60 Minutes, the CBS news show. Wallace starts out semi-tough, asking Ross if he thinks he has a freak memory. Halfway through, Ross has won him over. Nobody ever handled Wallace as well as Ross did.
Wallace had hosted a series of game shows in the mid-1950’s. He actually hosted the show on which Ross won $100,000: The Big Surprise. Ross had participated when it was hosted by Jack Berry.
This was the period of a rigged quiz show, which was the basis of a Hollywood movie, Quiz Show (1994). Ross was never implicated. But Wallace’s predecessor on The Big Surprise was Jack Berry, who was the host of the rigged show, Twenty-One, which was running when Wallace interviewed Ross. The quiz show expert whom Wallace quotes, Charles Van Doren, was faking his specialized knowledge. He had been given the answers in advance. Ross was the real deal.
I offer this to any 12-year-old who has delusions of grandeur. You are not this smart.
In 1985, my wife was reading the local newspaper in Tyler, Texas. She told me: “Lenny Ross is dead.” She knew of my encounter with Ross in 1958. Over a quarter century later, Ross was still newsworthy across the country.
Please read a 1985 article by the New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd: “The Early Death of a Bedeviled Genius.” Click here.
One year earlier, in 1984, Wallace had also attempted suicide, but unlike Ross, he failed. His wife saved him. Yet he was an enormous success at the time . . . and remained so for another 21 years.
With this as background, I will tell you about Lenny Ross and me. I will then draw some conclusions and offer some advice. This advice has to do with what to do in high school and college — and what not to do.
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